The Phonological Development of Malaysian English Speaking Chinese Children: A Normative Study.
Thesis DisciplineSpeech and Language Therapy
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
The lack of culturally appropriate norms for assessing the speech and language status of Malaysian children has been an ongoing issue in Malaysia. At present, there are no normative data against which to assess the phonological skills of Malaysian children. Malaysian Chinese children are usually bilingual or multilingual. They acquire English, Mandarin Chinese and Malay during their preschool years. English that is used in Malaysia is commonly recognized as Malaysian English (MalE). MalE has distinctive phonological characteristics that are different from those of so-called Standard English (SE). However, the variations of MalE may not be completely understood by many speech-language pathologists (SLPs) in Malaysia, and this may lead to difficulty in differentiating speech differences resulting from MalE dialectal features and true speech disorders. As well as establishing speech norms for MalE speaking children, information is needed about the current assessment practices of the phonological development of MalE speaking children. Three studies were carried out for the present thesis. The first study was designed to provide insight into Malaysian SLPs’ perspectives on the current use of articulation and phonology assessments in the country. It reports the results of a survey of 38 Malaysian SLPs in term of the types of articulation and phonological assessments currently used, SLPs’ perceptions about the adequacy and accuracy of current articulation and phonological assessment in meeting clinical needs, the experiences of SLPs in using current articulation and phonological assessments, as well as their perception of the need for further research in the areas of articulation and phonology. The findings indicated that informal articulation or phonological assessments were widely used. Only a minority of the respondents used standardized articulation or phonological assessments. The majority of the respondents felt that the lack of locally developed standardized tests and the utilization of informal assessments of articulation and phonology in their clinics did not provide accurate diagnoses or intervention plans. They felt that there was a need for collecting phonological developmental data and creating articulation and phonology assessments for Malaysian children.
The second study was designed to identify characteristics of the consonant and vowel inventories of MalE as well as phonetic realizations of speech sounds, by investigating the speech production of ten adult Chinese speakers of MalE. The participants were asked to read a list of 206 single words which contained all expected MalE consonants, consonant clusters and vowels. These speech sounds were sampled in several different words and in different syllable-word positions. This study goes beyond previous studies of MalE phonology by using a quantitative auditory phonetic analysis. The characteristics observed were first categorized according to their frequency of occurrence and then further grouped into categories based on the possible influences of British English or American English as well as local Malaysian languages (Mandarin Chinese and Malay) and dialects. The interference patterns within MalE resulting from the influence of local languages and Chinese dialects were also discussed. The phonological features of MalE which converged with developmental phonological processes in SE children were explored. An understanding of the phonological features and realizations of MalE speech sounds is important because this will help speech-language pathologists to differentiate dialectal phonological features exhibited by MalE speaking children from phonological differences and disorders. The third study which was also the major study of this thesis was designed to provide valid and reliable normative data for the phonological development of MalE speaking Chinese children between the ages of 3 and 7 years. This study provided a description of the children’s phonological system in MalE in terms of i) age of acquisition of speech sounds, ii) speech sound accuracy and iii) phonological process use. 264 typically developing English speaking Malaysian Chinese children between the ages of 3 and 7 years were recruited to participate in this cross-sectional study. In a pilot study, eleven words were eliminated from the list used in the second study, leaving a list of 195 words which sampled consonants, consonant clusters and vowels in various syllable-word positions and phonotactic structures. The words were illustrated and presented colourfully in composite pictures to elicit a large and well-controlled single word speech sample. All the speech data gained were transcribed phonetically and analyzed quantitatively. The findings revealed that MalE children’s speech sound accuracy was underestimated when MalE dialectal features were not taken into consideration. MalE speaking children exhibited phonological acquisition patterns that were both similar and different to SE. The differences found were mainly due to the cross-linguistic effects of Mandarin Chinese and Malay which were acquired at the same time by MalE speaking children. The influence of Mandarin Chinese and Malay appeared to accelerate or delay the phonological acquisition of MalE based on phonetic similarity theory. The findings of the present study highlight the need to consider MalE dialectal features in the phonological analysis of MalE speaking children. The differences in phonological acquisition of MalE and SE indicate that the norms of SE are not suitable to be used for MalE speaking children. This study will provide useful and locally appropriate normative developmental data on phonological acquisition for MalE speaking Chinese children. Speech-language pathologists in Malaysia will be able to use it as a guideline in assessing and treating clients with articulation and phonological disorders. In addition, these normative developmental data are a prerequisite to the eventual establishment of a phonological assessment tool specifically designed for MalE.